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Mom Was Right. Proper Posture Is Important To Health

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 August, 2015, 5:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 August, 2015, 5:38pm

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When mom preaches, we tend not to listen, but when a doctor says it, we pay attention.  Here, Dr Raymond Yip, spinal surgeon at Matilda International Hospital, explains why good health is related to good posture, and how prolonged sitting or a “text head” - tilting the head forward to text or play games on a mobile device, will exert heavy pressure on the spinal area.

Health Related Quality of Life (HRQOL) is a concept used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess how an individual's well-being may be affected over time by a disease, disability, or disorder. According to Dr Yip, impaired posture has been found to be closely correlated with adverse HRQOL measurements, sending a strong message to those who neglect to maintain a proper posture.

A Head Tilt is a Weighty Matter

The ability to carry the head as nature intended seems like something modern day city people have long forgotten, as individuals become engrossed with work on computers and mobile devices.  The repetitive stress can lead to health problems.   “Moving the head forward can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 4.5kg to 13.5kg,” said Dr Raymond Yip, a spine surgeon at Matilda International Hospital.

Causes and Diagnosis of Pain in the Back

Natural degeneration from ageing or a sustained state of bad posture will gradually develop into spine problems involving pain with or without affecting normal mobility.  “When first line regimes, such as painkillers, rest, heat or ice therapy, fail to relieve the symptoms, patients will often be referred to spine specialists for more thorough investigations,” Dr Yip said.  Other than studying imaging reports, doctors will measure the degree of curvature to ascertain the condition of the spine. 

In general, a posture that is prone forward is correlated with increased loading on the spine generating pressure on the intervertebral discs, the gel-like shock-absorbing structure between each vertebra, thus increasing the risk of degenerative disc disease.

Sitting Exerts 150 kg of Disc Pressure

In addition to the above, when people stand upright, the disc pressure on the back is around 100kg. When seated, the disc pressure increases to around 150kg as there is loss of natural curvature of the spine.  “Bending forwards to brush teeth, for example, can result in an increase in disc pressure of up to 200kg,” Dr Yip said.  Meanwhile, there is about 5kg of disc pressure on the neck when the head is in a neutral position, but the disc pressure will increase five to six fold,  to 25kg or 30kg, when looking down, such as to read, or  to text on a mobile device.   

Repetitive exposures to elevated disc pressure is a major cause of accelerated disc degeneration which is irreversible, and which can lead to back pain due to spinal canal narrowing, and spinal cord or nerve root compression. Unavoidably though, as an individual ages, the intervertebral discs tend to dry up and lose height making the spinal column bend forwards. This is a viscous cycle as the forward posture will result in greater disc pressure and accelerated loss in disc height. 

Relieving Disc Pressure

To keep the spine healthy for as long as possible, Dr Yip shared some tips, “Whenever sitting, standing or carrying heavy objects, take precautions and maintain a proper posture to prevent inadvertently hurting the back or neck. For office workers, stand and stretch after sitting for a long time to relieve prolonged disc pressure.”   Developers of a smart watch recognised this need for periodic relief, and incorporated a feature that buzzes wearers to stand up for one minute every hour.

“Strengthening the core muscles through specific exercise is also good for the back, as well as some ergonomic aids, such as lumbar back support, dynamic sitting devices or a standing table, are all helpful to reduce disc pressure,” added Eyckle Wong, Physiotherapist Manager of Matilda International Hospital.

Spinal and orthopaedic health and treatment are part of the Centres of Excellence specialties of Matilda International Hospital.  Full rehabilitation support and independent physiotherapy therapies are also available.  For general enquiries, please call 2849 0355.